Sunday, May 15, 2011

A song that never pales

More than 10 million copies
of "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
have been sold, making it one of
the most popular singles ever.
 By Al Tays

Is there a more mysterious song than Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale"? Methinks not. Nor a more haunting melody than Matthew Fisher's Hammond organ riff, which was inspired by J.S. Bach's "Air." (This is the kind of thing that might actually make me give classical music another chance.)

We bring this up because on this date in 1977, the Harum played what was thought to be its last concert date, at New York's Academy of Music. It turned out to be a false alarm, as a reconstituted PH began touring in 1991 and is still skipping the light fandango today.

Procol Harum is often thought of -- incorrectly -- as a one-hit wonder. The band had a second hit in "Conquistador." It was part of PH's first album, released in 1967, but was redone with the Edmonton Symphony Orchesta in 1972. That version got to No. 16 in the U.S.

Still, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is the band's defining song. released on May 12, 1967, it reached No. 5 on the U.S. singles chart. Ten years later, it was honored, along with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," by the inaugural BRIT Awards as Best British Pop Single 1952–1977. "Best British Pop Single" during an era that included the British Invasion? Think of all the contenders these two songs beat out. Amazing.

But back to mystery. The name Procol Harum supposedly came from a cat owned by a friend of the band's original manager. The phrase has a Latin connection, too, but it's WAY too complicated to go into here. Vestal Virgins? Hey, that's what Google is for.

I don't need to look this up, though. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is one of my favorite songs. I even like Annie Lenox's cover. So you'll have to excuse me now -- I have to get out my Casio keyboard and start learning that melody. Here's to you, Johan.

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